"There's no excuse. There's absolutely no reason why people should have to go hungry in this country."
You say it, and you see the pictures of the bread lines, and you hear the voices, and you want to go out and shake somebody. You want to turn the indifferent faces of the powerful toward these sights and force them to look, to feel.
A furious little half-hour documentary, "Hunger: A Capital Shame," airs tonight at 9 on Channel 26 and repeats Sunday at 2 p.m. It is not a very original documentary, with the voice-over folk song, the one-sentence interviews, the compulsively catchy title. But then, it is not a very original story, either. The real shame is that it needs to be told yet again.
As Sheila Banks, who coproduced the show with Celeste Crenshaw, hurls the statistics at you like darts, you instinctively start to duck: the usual reaction in a culture where symbols are mistaken for reality. Thirty thousand go hungry every day in this city. One hundred thousand Washingtonians live below the poverty line. Food stamps supply, on the average, 43 cents a meal; at the most, 70 cents.
That will buy you two candy bars in a vending machine.
But after two or three minutes, something happens. The film, in its rage, pushes through its conventional format and grabs at you.
"I don't want to come here," says a man at a soup kitchen. "I been working since I was 9 years old. I want a job."
Over and over you hear it: I want a job, any job. This is the only country in the world where the poor are made to feel guilty. The War on Poverty has turned into a war against the poor.
The Rev. Annie Woodridge, who has been keeping people alive through her 14th Street (Mother Dear's) Community Center for 23 years, appears all too briefly, showing the way. She takes direct action. She buys food with money from her work and puts it into the hands of the hungry, along with her loving warmth. One and all know her as Mother Dear.
"There's the old poor, the middle class poor and the very new poor," she says. She gets no government help, makes her way as she did when she was raising her 11 children. It would have been great to show exactly how her operation works, how she gets the food, what she serves, where it goes.
More than 200 social organizations, churches and charities make up the community food bank here, scrounging surplus food from supermarkets and other sources as they turn up. That this goes on in a country literally bursting with stockpiled, uneaten food, a country that spends mountains of money just to store the stuff, might, you would think, alarm some people. They are not alarmed.
It is enough to make an atheist look fearfully to the skies.
One worker points out that, while money and food pour in during the Christmas season, that is, tax write-off time, funds dry up in January--while the winter continues. Donate time, Banks urges. Donate money. Shake your congressman, if you have one.
A 6-year-old girl called the people at the Greater Scripture Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Shaw area, and told them she was hungry. A direct challenge. It got a direct response. The church pulled up its socks and organized a feed-in. Five thousand people came.
The title is right: "Shame" is the word. The tragedy is, the wrong people are ashamed.